City appeal committee OKs Northgate mall apartment project that had mayor’s support

A proposed apartment complex next to Winnipeg’s Northgate Shopping Centre can go ahead after city councillors rejected calls from some residents who wanted the project stopped.

Mayor Scott Gillingham, who said during his mayoral campaign last fall that he wanted to see more mixed-use development, wrote a letter in support of the original proposal, but the chair of the city’s appeals committee said it didn’t affect his vote on Wednesday.

“I don’t think we’ve had that before, but the mayor is new in office and I don’t think there’s anything barring him” from expressing support for a project ahead of a vote, St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes said in an interview.

“I have to say I was caught up in the hearing. I haven’t read that letter yet, to be honest. So I can honestly say it certainly didn’t sway my opinion one way or the other.”

Mayes and Daniel McIntyre Coun. Cindy Gilroy cast the only votes on the matter, both denying the appeal. 

Fellow committee members Ross Eadie (Mynarski) and Vivian Santos (Point Douglas) recused themselves, because they had cast the original votes in favour of the project at a meeting of the city’s Lord Selkirk-West Kildonan committee last month.

In his letter, Gillingham said the city needs projects like the Northgate proposal, which would see a section of the McPhillips Street mall’s south parking lot converted into three apartment blocks with a total of 204 units.

A man wearing glasses and a suit is speaking into a microphone, with a building in the background.
Scott Gillingham called for residential developments in commercial areas during the 2022 election campaign. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The mayor wrote that critics raised “a familiar list of objections, but “most cities are experiencing local opposition as they try to add more density into existing residential neighbourhoods” like those around Northgate.

“If we need infill housing — and we do — then it’s better it be built at Northgate instead of deep in single-family neighbourhoods where any resistance and disruption will be far stronger,” he wrote.

‘Prime infill’ locations: mayor

In an interview Wednesday, Gillingham said speaking out in favour of the Northgate project was consistent with his campaign commitments.

“I want to see our city really looking at these sites as prime infill … locations that can really help the city meet its density targets,” he said.

The city’s procedure bylaw allows members of council to make submissions to the appeal committee, unless they are part of the original hearing body or a member of the appeal committee, city spokesperson David Driedger said in an email.

Mayes said he was reluctant to second-guess the decision of the area councillors who originally approved the Northgate project, although he did not support granting automatic approval to residential developments on commercial sites.

“There’s a provision in our new draft strategic plan that really concerns me,” Mayes said, referring to the city’s strategic priorities action plan, which lays out council priorities for the next four years.

It includes a section calling for the city to amend zoning bylaws to allow residential construction above commercial sites, including shopping malls.

Mayes disagrees with that approach.

“We should demand some concessions. We shouldn’t hand over millions of dollars of development rights to developers,” he said. 

Project fits with community: committee

Community members who opposed the proposed Northgate apartment project told the committee on Wednesday it’s too large for the surrounding area and would lead to dangerous levels of traffic.

“Someone is supporting a project that is strictly profit-driven and not neighbourhood-friendly to the existing neighbourhood or the potential residents,” Cathy Dion said during the meeting.

Mayes raised questions about some details of the development, including how a proposed main-floor communal library — which the developer says will include books, tools and other items to be shared with residents — will work.

Gilroy expressed sympathy for community members concerned about the effect the project would have on the existing neighbourhood.

“I always know that it’s very hard for neighbouring communities, when they’re getting developments like this,” she said during the meeting.

“However, I do think this is a proper use of this space.”

Ultimately, Mayes and Gilroy concluded that the project was compatible with the area and with other City of Winnipeg plans.

Decisions of the appeal committee are final.

In January, one of the mall’s co-owners said if the project was approved by the city, people could be moving into the Northgate apartments as early as the end of 2024.

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